Bury Schools Linking Programme was launched in the Autumn term 2018, led for Bury Council by the Curriculum and Language Access Service (CLAS). Now approaching our 5th year of Linking, we are excited to see that interest in the Linking Programme continues to increase. It has been a challenging few years, but we are still here, helping children to connect with others they might not otherwise met; this year we are excited to have 12 classes linking.
When schools returned last year, we approached Schools Linking cautiously, but optimistically, hoping that we would be able to have some face-to-face meetings between classes before the end of the year. We held a virtual CPD 1 session in the autumn term and teachers followed the Phase 1 plans, using the resources to start making connections with their partner classes. For Phase 2, we planned a series of workshops with Community Arts North West, rather than arranging neutral venue workshops as we had done before. We thought the workshops would take place in the spring term, but as schools closed again, they were postponed until the summer. Fortunately, all but one of the workshops was able to take place. The workshops incorporated the themes of Phase 2 and Jade Williams, from CAN, delivered them in person for each class. CAN produced a booklet for teachers which complemented the Phase 2 resources.
The children discussed how to send a greeting to their friends, talked about what they cared about, created poems together and were the given an empty box and a bundle of resources to create gifts for their linking friends. Shirlaine Forrest accompanied Jade on some of the workshops and took fabulous photos of the children. It was fascinating to see the boxes when they were finished and how each class had approached the idea differently. The care and love they had invested in creating gifts for their linking partners was very evident.
The workshops were very well received by both children and teachers. A child said to Jade at the end of one workshop, “I just want to say it was a pleasure having you here and we are really grateful you could come.”
A teacher at another school commented, “I must just say that Jade and Shirlaine were absolutely brilliant. What a wonderful session Jade just provided and what a lovely person she is. All the children loved the session. Please pass on my thanks to both ladies.” We’re all looking forward to building on these ideas and hoping we will be able to get together in person again.
We knew that our linking classes would be unable to celebrate the end of their Linking year in the same way as we had in previous years, due to restrictions in place, but we decide to continue to work with Community Arts Northwest (CAN) and were able to present Linking classes with gifts, instead of seeing them. We thought there had been such reliance on technology and remote learning, we wanted to offer an opportunity of doing something physical. CAN suggested doing workshops in schools – luckily schools agreed to have them come in -it hasn’t always been easy – but by the end of it, every school enjoyed their workshop and the gifts created! We talked about the phase 2 themes and developed it to creating a box of gifts to share with the partner class… this lovely example was from two x Year 5 classes.
Amazingly, despite floods, storms and coronavirus, in 2019-20, we actually did manage to run two CPD sessions for teachers and, with the fantastic support of Community Arts North West and the Polish Social Centre, seven neutral venue days for our fourteen linking schools. In the autumn term classes exchanged photos, jigsaws, curiosity questions and more to begin the process of getting to know one another. The Linking Network offered an enticing range of activities to choose from to support this, with the result that in January, for our first neutral venue visit, children were prepared and excited to meet their new friends in person. Imagine – we hadn’t even heard of social distancing then!
The sessions were carefully planned by Community Arts North West (CAN) in consultation with CLAS to align with the principles of Schools Linking:
- to develop and deepen children ’s understanding of identity, diversity, equality and community
- to develop enquiry, critical thinking, reflection and communication
- to develop trust, empathy, awareness and respect
- to provide opportunities for children and young people to meet, build relationships, work together and contribute
- to provide opportunities for adults who work with children to share good practice, increase understanding of the issues of identity and community and to broaden perspectives.
The first task of the session, led by Chelsea Morgan and Jade Williams from CAN, was to say hello. After a big hello from one class to another, children formed one big circle, standing next to a child from their partner school. In pairs they made up their own form of greeting. Little did we know how useful these ideas would soon become – elbow bumps, toe touching, finger clicking …
To help everyone feel more relaxed, teachers then led two mixed groups in playing circle games which had already been learned back in school. These really helped to establish an atmosphere of fun, acknowledging that we all feel nervous about meeting new people.
After learning some drama techniques such as ‘standing in neutral’, there was a chance to show each other different emotions through facial expression, body language and voice – all good preparation for the drama activity after lunch.
Working in four mixed groups, children then worked with a partner from the other class taking it in turns to draw around each other’s hands on sheets of flip chart paper. They asked each other about their favourite things and what qualities they thought made a good friend. They wrote them in each of their hands. Joining the sheets together, the children then had to find connections between what they had written and what others in the group had written, joining the hands with lines. This activity was then expanded further by laying all the sheets of paper in the middle of the room, and each group taking a turn to find and draw more connections, first across their small group and then across the whole group. They were always amazed when they found someone had written the same thing. The Community Arts North West facilitators, Chelsea and Jade, built in lots of opportunities for the children to reflect on the activities. When asked what the drawings of the hands connected by lines reminded them of, we heard comments like, ‘It reminds me of how we are all connected.’ ‘When we came, we didn’t know each other, but now we’ve made new friends.’
At each session, the children were always amazed to find how many favourites they had in common, and how many others shared the same friendship values. This activity really helped to communicate those connections visually, creating a shared sense of community across the two classes.
After eating lunch sitting with their new friends, the next task was to create a list poem collaboratively. Each of the four groups had a different place to write about and each week the places changed according to the shared friendship values the children had identified. Time was spent generating ideas first, then thoughts were shaped into a list poem.
Once the poems had been created, the next task was for the children to work out as a group how they could perform their poem to the others, drawing on the techniques learned in the morning. Each group took turns to perform and to be the audience. Together this beautiful anthology of poems was created.
Before going off to find coaches, everyone took time to say goodbye to their new friends, eagerly looking forward to their summer term exchange visits. Sadly those have had to be postponed, but hopefully the memory of the days at the Polish Social Centre with Chelsea and Jade will continue!
Thank you to everyone who made each of the sessions a successful experience for the children!
In the previous ‘normal’ linking year, equally successful neutral venue visits were held at the Bury Met, with David Brookhouse and John Meredith from Lancashire County Council Heritage Learning Team leading the sessions. David and John led the workshops with the children, where they created a song with a focus on the themes Who Am I?, Who are We?, Where Do We Live? and How Do We All Live Together?
One of the headteachers commented: ‘I would like to say thank you for giving our children this opportunity. The children and staff have really gained a rich experience from this. They also really enjoyed their neutral venue experience as well and came back with a buzz of excitement after creating their song.’
‘4/5B enjoyed a fun filled day at ‘The Met Bury’ on Wednesday. They thoroughly enjoyed singing, playing and creating music with the children from St Mary’s. The children celebrated living in Bury and learnt new things about Bury’s history in a fun and inspiring way.’
Some quotes from the participants too: Marya – ‘I loved making new friends from St Mary’s, it was also great that we were able to create and record a song all about Bury.’
Saim – ‘ I made two amazing new friends from St Mary’s they were very funny and made me smile. I look forward to meeting with them again in the future.
Find out more about our experiences at the Bury Met: https://themet.org.uk/article/schools-linking/
Here are some photos of the classes learning signed supported English, some of the beautiful boxes they created for their linking partners, following workshops delivered by Community Arts North West, and some lovely poems also written by children for their linking partners last year.
If you would like more information, please contact:
Janna Welsby, CLAS (Curriculum and Language Access Service) Bury Council – J.Welsby@bury.gov.uk
follow us on Twitter @CLAS_EAL
Or take a look at our website CLAS Linking in Bury